Sunday, 27 January 2013

They Write the Songs: Dietz and Schwartz

 Not too much to say about the latest episode of Barry Manilow's They Write the Songs (available on BBC iplayer here until Thursday) except that I enjoyed it. Felt that the langurous, melismatic version Something to Remember You By (Etta Jones this time, not James) did a disservice to the song - it's a plea, not a seduction - but then I have Turner Layton's more modest version firmly lodged in my head (not available on youtube or Sp*tify, so you will have to search it out for yourself).

But the main thing is that after several episodes I'm more keenly aware of, and warming to, Barry's particular skills: he's chatting casually about something he loves, so you're not going to get the precision or detail of a Russell Davies or Robert Cushman, but that's the wrong thing to be looking for. As easy, friendly introductions to these songwriters these are well done - provided you accept Barry's personality.

He sang his own version of Dancing in the Dark, maybe not the best performance ever waxed, but he also reminded us of the sheer oddness of that lyric beforehand:
We're waltzing in the wonder of why we're here
Time passes by, we're here - and gone ...
and takes the time to inform us that his recording was closely based on the original Conrad Salinger chart.

I can't remember the source, nor the exact quote, but I think John Lahr was once reviewing Jonathan Ross and made some remark about his charm reaching out of the TV set and grabbing you. I'm beginning to feel that way with Barry - even if Jamie Cullum's lengthy recording of You and the Night and the Music was the version he felt impelled to foist on us. Surely in a programme intended to highlight the songwriter ... but no, let it go, let it go. I'm a coward, and I don't want to be attacked by rabid fans again.

Besides, on the credit side he mentioned how the "Fill me with flaming desire" line nearly got the song banned, and he told us about working with Bette Davis, trying to follow her eccentric vocalising on They're Either Too Young or Too Old. Here's a studio recording, which I think was the one played:

Of other recordings featured, Dick Haymes' If There Is Someone Lovelier Than You was a highspot, and there were two versions of That's Entertainment, a demo by Roger Edens which allowed us to concentrate on the lyrics, then a more flamboyant version by Judy Garland. (The top image comes from the film of The Band Wagon, as that's where I first heard it; two other songs from the soundtrack, I Guess I'll Have to Change My Plan and Triplets, were played.)

There was very little biographical material about the songwriting duo, other than the remarkable fact that they were, in effect, part timers, which made their achievements together all the more remarkable.

I probably won't write about any more episodes of this series although I will listen with interest to next week's programme on Johnny Mercer. Three big questions: will he play the live version of The Days of Wine and Roses, from An Evening with Johnny Mercer, beloved of Benny Green? Will he play ANY version of that neglected non-classic Arthur Murray Taught Me Dancing in a Hurry? And finally, will he play Sinatra's version of One For My Baby (again, much beloved) or will he show true class and play the Astaire recording?

It's not that I don't trust him, but just in case ...

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